The fashion industry is predominantly focussed on creating garments for unfeasibly skinny women. Every year, tall, thin models parade down catwalks wearing a multitude of different designs to be lauded by fashion journalists, A-list celebrities, and the world’s media. Some of the designs are wonderful; others less so. But what really matters here is that these designs would never fit – or look good on – a “normal” woman.
Step inside any clothing store and you are immediately defined by your size. Everything is labelled by size, ranging from petite size six to “plus-size” garments 14/16 upwards. In high street fashion stores, there are usually lots of garments in smaller sizes, and not so many in the larger sizes, and yet a higher percentage of shoppers will be looking for clothing in the larger sizes.
The average dress size in the UK is now a size 16, which in the US is a size 12. And yet the majority of fashion stores display their garments on size 10 mannequins. However, there is some evidence of change within the fashion industry, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that high street behemoth, Debenhams, announced back in 2014 that it was now using size 16 mannequins in its Oxford Street store. Their explanation was that size 16 was a more accurate reflection of many of its customers.
Not surprisingly, the press had a lot to say about this development. The fact is, however, that most women are not a size 8/10, so size 16 clothing ranges are the new normal. Nobody is disputing the fact that being morbidly obese is profoundly unhealthy, but it is possible to be a size 12/14 and be curvy, yet healthy.
As UK equalities minister Jo Swinson said back in 2014, the fashion industry seems to be fixated on the view that there is only one way to be beautiful: i.e. a size 8. As a consequence, millions of women are pushed out into a no-go fashion zone, where catwalk trends simply don’t fit or look attractive on normal women.
The Rise of Plus-Size Fashion
Once upon a time, plus-size clothing consisted of a few dowdy items shoved on to a rail and hidden at the back of a store. Things are slowly changing for the better. There is even a Plus-Size Fashion Week held in London, where plus-size shoppers and fashion bloggers go to peruse the latest ranges designed for women.
Thousands of women fly into London from all over the world to see catwalk shows, listen to talks about styling and body confidence, and shop for clothing made by their favourite designers. In such a closed minded world, it makes a refreshing change to see huge numbers of larger ladies coming together to celebrate their love of fashion.
London Plus-Size Fashion Week is a positive development for anyone that has a passion for fashion, but who can’t squeeze into the size zero garments so beloved by the likes of Victoria Beckham and her waifish ilk. Fashion has long been a slave to stick thin models, so isn’t it about time that women of all shapes and sizes had a chance to experiment with the latest fashion trends?
Plus-size fashion bloggers, of whom there are many, certainly think so. The blogosphere is a huge community, with many of the world’s most popular bloggers attracting huge readerships, but until fairly recently, plus-size clothing bloggers remained largely under the radar.
In the last few years, this has changed. Today’s most popular bloggers are highly visible in the mainstream media and the fashion world has accepted their presence. In part this is down to the rise of the online world, where anyone and everyone has a voice. In the past, the fashion media tended to assume that larger ladies didn’t have an interest in fashion. Now they know this isn’t the case. Instead, fashion conscious plus-size women care about clothing and want garments that flatter their curves.
There is now a rising tide of women who are happy to show off their plus-size bodies online, on Instagram, and in fashion blogs.
Plus-size fashion bloggers have a shared goal. They want to promote body diversity through fashion and persuade fashion designers than women want trendy clothing in larger sizes. The fashion world is slowly coming round to this idea and there are a few brands who now specialise in clothing for larger ladies, but it is still commonplace for big-name designers to use scarily thin models to showcase their work.
Even the models themselves are ready for a change. An interview with some of the Victoria’s Secret Angels revealed that many of them felt it was time for curvier plus-size models to be added to the roster. The famous lingerie brand has designs in US sizes 4 through to 14, but the girls who model Victoria’s Secret lingerie are usually size zero or two. Vocal critics of the brand have pointed out that this sends a negative message to plus-size women.
The plus-size fashion market has been valued at a staggering $17.5 billion in the US alone, so it is clear that plus-size fashion is booming. A lot of fashion retailers refuse to make their designs for plus-size women because they assume that larger ladies don’t want high fashion.
The reality is very different. Many plus-size women want to celebrate their curves and enjoy a wide diversity of styles.
Famous Plus-Size Models
Ten years ago, any plus-size woman who wanted to become a model would have had an extremely hard time doing so. Today the climate is very different and there are a number of well-known plus-size models who have appeared on the pages of famous publications such as Sports Illustrated, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Women like Ashley Graham, Robin Lawley and Tess Holliday have broken boundaries by showing the world that plus-size women can be beautiful, bold and body confident. They can also look fabulous in catwalk designer fashions.
What Exactly Is Plus-Size Fashion?
Plus-size is a contentious subject. Plus-size in one store is standard sizing in another. A lot of stores segregate their clothing ranges into different sections. For example, men’s fashions might be upstairs, along with clothing for kids. Women’s clothing is then split up into “petite”, “maternity”, and of course, “plus-size”. Women who need clothing in a bigger size are forced to shop in the plus-size range. What this doesn’t take into account is that sizes across all clothing stores are not the same. So, you can be a size 12 in one shop and a size 14 in another.
The official definition of plus-size clothing (if there is such a thing) is clothing in an extra-large size. In the modelling world, plus-size is any model larger than a size four (in the US). In UK high street fashion terms, plus-size clothing is generally clothing size 16 and above. Shops that stock plus-size garments typically have ranges for taller, curvier women in sizes from 14 to 22/24.
Gemma Collins, iconic member of the ‘The Only Way is Essex’ cast, is herself a larger lady. Her weight fluctuates from month to month, but she is very much a plus-size woman. Her reality TV fame has allowed Gemma to follow former cast-mate, Amy Childs, into the fashion business. Gemma now designs her own collection catering for plus-size women. She regularly showcases her own designs, on the TV and in print, and as she points out to journalists, regular fashions can’t always be sized up to fit a larger lady, so purpose designed garments for curvier figures tend to look better.
Who Can Wear Plus-Size Garments?
Plus-size doesn’t mean fat or even obese. Plus-size models prove this without a shadow of a doubt: the biggest names in the plus-size modelling industry – Jenny Runk et al – are tall, shapely, but certainly not “fat”. As Jenny herself admits, plus-size ladies just take up more room than their friends.
Anyone who is curvy or perhaps taller will fall into the plus-size category. But, as we have already stated unequivocally, plus-size does not necessarily mean “fat”. What is important to remember is that a woman who falls into the plus-size category may also be athletic, short, or any other variable of size in between the two.
Size Doesn’t Matter!
Size does not matter. You can be fashion conscious, stylish, and gorgeous no matter what size you are. Fashion is a chance for you to express your personality, not hide your light under a bushel. Rather than avoiding clothing that clings to their curves or accentuates the rounded areas, shouldn’t they be embracing their shape instead?
Plus-Size Fashion Tips for Stylish Women
Following your own personal style is important, so if the idea of wearing a body-con dress brings you out in hives, then you should probably avoid wearing one. But if you love that type of outfit, then great, don’t let other people’s notions of what a “larger person” should wear stop you.
Couture fashion designers and big fashion houses tend to concentrate their energies on designing clothes for super models and women who fit the same mould. They assume that plus-size women won’t be interested in what they have to offer.
This is rubbish. Whatever your body shape, you have to be true to you. You should wear whatever you feel most comfortable in, regardless of size and never subscribe to the media’s closed minded interpretation of the word “plus-size”.
Women have to learn to love their bodies, whatever their shape. Look for clothes that show off and accentuate your curves and avoid garments that turn you into a shapeless blob. Luckily the fashion industry is starting to wake up to the idea that full-figured ladies are hungry for stylish clothes. So if you need some inspiration, here are some fashion rules that deserve to be broken and a few cute outfit ideas.
Big prints – Larger women are taught from birth that wearing large prints is bad news if you are a bit on the curvy side. Psychedelic prints and bold patterns only draw unwanted attention to lumps and bumps, so why would you want to do that? Don’t listen to the haters! Be proud to be a plus-size woman and embrace your femininity. Bold prints demand to be seen in public, so wear them with pride.
Stripes – I bet you have been told a million times that horizontal stripes are a big no-no and vertical stripes are slimming. Well this is true to a certain extent, but why should you avoid wearing horizontal stripes just because the rest of the world says they are fattening? Stripes give you visibility and in a world where it can be hard to stand out at times, a stripy maxi dress or blouse cinched in at the waist will accentuate your curves.
Black and white – Larger plus-size ladies are usually told to wear black because it minimises their curves. White is the colour to avoid, apparently. White makes things larger, so if you wear lots of white layers, it is not such a good look. However, if the weather is hot, wearing black is going to be horribly uncomfortable, not to mention sweaty, and unless you want to hide away in a dark room, black is not the answer. So wear white instead and go for white jeans, white flowing tops and white anything really.
Fitted dresses – The thing with wearing fitted dresses is that they cling to your curves and accentuate any problem areas you might have, such as a rounded belly or bottom. Plus-size ladies are not supposed to wear garments that draw attention to their bellies or booties. It’s not sexy! Well in times gone by, curvy, rounded flesh and the feminine form was considered to be super sexy. Check out paintings by Rubens and see how sexy a voluptuous female body can be, then pull on a gorgeous fitted pencil dress, pair it with some sexy heels, and embrace your femininity.
Checking out what’s available on the High Street should afford you plenty of choice, but don’t be afraid to experiment and find your own unique style. The fashion industry loves to place plus-size women in a box, by telling them what they can and can’t wear. Fortunately there are lots of fashion resources and plus-size fashion bloggers out there to offer advice and inspiration.
Search online for plus-size fashion blogs and see what other women are wearing. You might not like their ideas or garment choices, but it might give you a few ideas of other styles you can try. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try a new look.
Love Your Curves
If you receive any mean comments on photos, ignore them! Words can’t hurt you. Instead, be an inspiration to other plus-size women and use plus-size models as your inspiration. Many of these women had to fight an awful lot of prejudice in order to achieve success in the fashion and modelling world.
Living a life in fear of what other people will say about your fashion choices is a life constrained by limits. Instead, set yourself free and be true to your curves. There is nothing sexier than a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and has learned to love her body shape, lumps, bumps and all.